The Feminine and the Masculine Psyche

One of the problems that men face in their lives today is that they do not really know how to relate to women.

When you think about the early experience of a boy as a child, the influence of the feminine is extraordinary. As James Hollis says in his book, Under Saturn’s Shadow – The Wounding And Healing Of Men: “…the mother is the place of origin, locus of parturition and omphalos of our world.”

“Such ‘torrents of ancestry’ are entrusted to the fragile vessel of a single person, a woman, who phenomenologically communicates the mystery of life itself and who, in the specific relationship between mother and child, embodies all sorts of messages about our relationship to the life force.

“The mother’s biochemistry in utero, the treatment of the child by his mother, her affirmations or denials of his personhood, are primal messages to boys about their own being.”

He goes on: “Not only do we share most of our early, formative days and years with her – the more so if fathers are distant or not there at all – but her role is replicated by teachers and other caretakers who in our culture are still primarily female.”

The power of the feminine, as he wryly observes, is immense in the psyche of men. And so how are we to become adult men, emotionally and psychologically separate from women, especially as we have no men’s rites of passage or male initiation rituals in our society?

In previous ages these rituals were the method by which boys became full members of society. They literally took the boy away from the mother and inducted him into the society of men, teaching him what he needed to know to live in his society.

Video – Rites of Passage by Richard Rohr

And there are other implications of the absence of rituals and processes for men to become full, adult members of our tribe.

The first is that the penis becomes a weapon to use against women, rather than a tool for the unification of the sexes in an act of love or procreation.

Hollis has observed that the patriarchy is a way in which men defend against their powerlessness, and therefore, if that is true, the penis also become a weapon which men use to defend the patriarchy as well as oppress women.

The second: boys who did not separate from that earliest bond with their mothers will not have a good relationship with women in later life.

Since they did not individuate as autonomous men who can stand on their own two feet and relate to women as equals, they will be constantly living in the shadow of their fear of losing mother, or the archetypal woman she represents in their heads.

Every interaction with women will be overlaid by the fear of separation, of abandonment, that a small child feels when he learns that mother is a separate being who can go away – and when she does, his needs will not be met. He may, in fact, die.

The degree of this primal fear is enough – more than enough – to dictate that these still psychologically mother-dependent men do not relate to women in adult life as free agents, but that they supplicate, adapt or control women. (Shadow work and an understanding of archetypal energies can go a long way to dispel these mistaken beliefs formed in childhood.)

Moreover, because we do not have the initiation of older men to guide us in what we shall become as we grow up, we seek out roles and careers which reinforce our sense of self – at least superficially – while still denying us the fulfillment of an occupation that our soul craves.

In this way, therefore, the lives of men are just as governed by restrictive role expectations as are women’s.

In addition, if a woman is living out her own unfulfilled wishes and desires through her child, then his life becomes governed by a second set of expectations – the ones she his mother was not able to manifest in her life.

An unconscious desire for the “safety of mother” leads men into difficulties in the expression of their sexuality as well.

Sex, whether oral sex or vaginal intercourse, becomes weighted with an infantile need for bodily contact and nurturance, rather than the proper expression of powerful male sexuality.

And as men become aware of these infantile aspects of themselves, they push the woman they are with away, so as to remove themselves from the source of their fear.

In this way, a man’s relationship with his internal mother complex becomes manifest as an alternating attraction and repulsion to the woman he is with in his life now.

But this is not all. A man may experience too much of mother as well as too little. If, as a child, he experiences the inability of his mother to meet his needs, he may develop separation anxiety as an adult.

This is a generalized anxiety that can be existential and unspecific.

Most often it manifests as a fear that he is just not good enough. He may become angry at her: she was not there for him. Then, without understanding why, he becomes angry at women in general.

If his mother was overwhelming, he becomes angry at the implicit violation of his soul which takes place – then, later in life, he responds with anger to anything which appears to mirror the invasion of his soul which took place when he was a child.

As an adult, the women in his life respond to his need for nurturance and then understandably are repelled by his anger when he feels invaded – an anger which is often disproportionate to the woman’s actions.